PAX West 2017: Trion’s PvE MMO shooter Defiance deserves a second look

I admit that before PAX West 2017, I hadn’t logged into Defiance in a long, long time. I couldn’t even say how long. Even so, I still have very fond memories of the hellbugs (isn’t it just so cute the way they try to eat off your face?), so I was intrigued to see where the game was nowadays. How is it doing? Where is it going?

I met with Executive Producer Matthew Pettit, who hooked me up with a character in-game for some high-level Arkfall hunting while we talked about recent updates and future plans for the open-world MMO shooter.

“I can tell you it’s going to be a very exciting year for Defiance,” Pettit told me. And after listening and playing, I think the game is definitely worth keeping an eye on — or maybe even jumping in right now.

Current perceptions and play

Something a number of folks might not realize when talking about this shooter is that the game is PvE; most often shooters are equated with PvP (and very few if any have the world scope this does). That misunderstanding might drive people away. It might also be that Defiance is just not well known in the gaming community, despite being around for four years.

Pettit is more than aware of the problem. “We need to reach more people, so we are working on possibly expanding into other areas, maybe other consoles,” he said. As it is now, the game is on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. “We want this game to last five years into the future, and PS3 and Xbox 360 probably aren’t going to be around in five years.”

How does the game play currently? Pretty smoothly, judging from my time at the keyboard. The first thing we did was go use the map to find the closest Minor Arkfall, then after defeating it, we moved on to join other players at Major Arkfall (five minors plus a boss). Then we ended on a massive dynamic raid-type event facing the Progenitor. The ability to easily switch between six load outs — each with two weapons and a shield plus separate gear, vehicle, and looks — was really nice, as was the nearby ammo resupply box. (I’m pretty proud I actually didn’t die the entire fight!)

I honestly didn’t remember the game handling this well, though I never did reach this level of play in the real game. “It’s been out for four years and we’ve made massive amounts of improvements — it plays better, it feels better, and we fixed a lot of the stability problems we had early on,” Pettit reminded me. “There is a lot of the game that is great, and a lot of the game that we feel could be improved.”

Switching to subclass skill trees

To that end, Trion is expanding the Defiance team and also putting more resources behind it right now. “What we’re really trying to do is change some of the pain points that people have brought up over the years,” Pettit explained. “And just make a better product.”

One thing that the team wants to change is the abilities and ego perks into a class based system. Currently, the ego grid is a jumbled block of choices that Pettit called “convoluted and hard to understand.” So he said the idea is to revamp these by pulling them out into subclasses. Before the fear of getting locked into a class sets in, Pettit assured me, “You can switch your class at any time, but you have to level each class individually.” Furthermore, “You won’t be pigeon-holed into a class when you start the game.” The goal is to allow players to pick their playstyle, even if that changes from fight to fight.

Massively Overpowered was on the ground in Seattle for PAX West 2017, bringing you expert MMO coverage on Ashes of Creation, Ship of Heroes, Dual Universe, and everything else on display at the latest Penny Arcade Expo!
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24 Comments on "PAX West 2017: Trion’s PvE MMO shooter Defiance deserves a second look"

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Shawn Tisdell

I don’t see how anyone can say ” smooth gameplay”. The frequent disconnects and invisible enemies are far from what I would call smooth. It’s apparent you could not have been in game for more than 20 mins. Even more apparent that you never saw an expedition or this review would have been alot different. As a steady player for over 3 years I can say it’s been anything but “smooth” . I’ve seen a steady decline in “day one” players and watched known bugs go ignored or shrugged off as business as usual. Seen support blame the customers when everything has been shown to be on the server side, then just cease to answer after such proof is provided, or simply throw up their hands and say “we aren’t authorized to fix this , but we will pass your issues to our Dev team”. This game needs new talent in most areas so I will be hoping for the best, but I expect more of the same. Which tends to be a simple cash grab with little investment into the game itself.

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Jay Madison

Sorry Trion. I really enjoyed Defiance. I even watched the TV show for a while.

But it died to me the moment you decided to NOT move to PS4/Xbox One like every other Console MMO did.

I moved on into the new generation without you, and the other MMOs that moved with us got my money instead.

If you had ported to PS4 at its launch, I might still be playing and paying attention to Defiance.

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Crowe

I enjoyed my time in Defiance and could be persuaded to go back. Unless Trion does the same thing to it that they did to Rift.

outbound_flight
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outbound_flight

I *really* hope Trion are serious about putting some extra weight behind Defiance, but I’ll believe it when I see it. The game always had a marvelous foundation to build upon, fun gameplay, unique setting, and a very dedicated community, but the problem was always that the devs never, ever built upon it. Never dug into the setting or capitalized on the stories the TV show constantly threw their way. Never made it easy to group or run clans or fight bosses en masse. Or even solved basic QoL and server problems that drove tons of people away. (The servers were still splintering everyone off into different shards during open world boss fights when I played.)

Not to mention their last big content update was a 45 minute campaign and a new enemy type for Arkfalls, and that was over a *year* ago. The content update before that was Alcatraz, where you had to pay for tokens to run randomly generated dungeons like an arcade machine. Then there was their attempt at putting a much-needed auction house in the game, which crashed the game client so they had to remove it altogether.

I’ll need to see a few updates that aren’t just more lockboxes, reskinned weapons, and damage types before I even think about jumping back in. Since the game launched, it’s always seemed like the devs could just never figure out how to properly update the game (the original team was laid off years back) and aside from Silicon Valley in 2014, the open world has been static. I desperately want them to prove me wrong, but I waited years for any kind of effort. And still waiting for the S3 content they promised and never delivered.

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BalsBigBrother

Hmm it has been a long long time since I played this. I have general memories of it being kind of fun in short bursts. I suppose it might be time to revisit it again to see what it is like nowadays so I will add it to my never shrinking list of games I want to take a look at :-)

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sophiskiai

I gave the game a try shortly before it went F2P, on the basis of liking the tv show, and remember it having good shooting and general gameplay but not much content. Like Greaterdivinity, I was left with a feeling of “Is this it?” and not much to do except wander around grinding rep / xp / loot.

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Sorenthaz

…Did the tags auto populate based off of seeing “ark” used in the article? >.>

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Sorenthaz

Imo their efforts would be better spent on a Defiance 2, or they simply need to drop support for old gen consoles and stop limiting the game with long out of date systems.

At least put out an expansion that’s exclusive to PC and possibly current gen consoles. One that either adds more open world to the existing stuff or moves on to a much larger open world map. Nothing is limiting them from exploring other parts of the world/United States. Hell it’d be interesting if we could roam around in The Great Divide or whatever.

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Paragon Lost

I wanted to play it when it first came out but the controls are one of those that once again makes me nauseous, so I ended up logging out never to play again after suffering through 20 minutes of it.

Which means I never got to find out how the mechanics really work or don’t nor how big or small the game world was. :/ Man do I dislike controls like this, looking at you DDO, ESO, SWL.

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Tobasco da Gama

You can switch your class at any time, but you have to level each class individually.” Furthermore, “You won’t be pigeon-holed into a class when you start the game.”

I really hope we start seeing more class systems that work this way.

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squidgod2000

Defiance never had classes. Not sure how adding them will do anything except create another grind (re: leveling each class).

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Greaterdivinity

Something a number of folks might not realize when talking about this shooter is that the game is PvE

Honestly…for anyone that knows the game exists, and played it around launch that should be pretty well known. It was always billed as a primarily PvE shooter, especially with the focus on the tie-in with the show early on.

It might also be that Defiance is just not well known in the gaming community, despite being around for four years.

Given how much attention it had at launch due to the show tie-in and some great coverage overall, and its release on PS3/360 covering the console crowd, I’d be surprised if this was the case. It’s just that the game flopped out of the gate, giving it a bad rep, and even after it went F2P it never managed to pick up much of an audience.

How does the game play currently? Pretty smoothly, judging from my time at the keyboard.

Core gameplay has never really been the main issue for the game. Gunplay is surprisingly fantastic, driving around is a bit silly at times but solid enough for the most part, and the core foundation for a great MMO is there. It’s the everything else that’s the problem. Especially the microscopic size of the open world content.

Still remember getting to the end of SF and thinking, “Wait…this is it? This is barely a zone or two in any other MMO and this is the entire gameworld?”

To that end, Trion is expanding the Defiance team and also putting more resources behind it right now.

This…is super surprising. It’s a pleasant surprise, but I’m not sure I see the long-game in this. The game will not do well with a simple port to next-gen, even if they somehow manage to find the budget to do a pass at all the visuals to make the game look half-decent (even on PC it very much looks like a rough last generation game). That alone is going to be a pretty huge undertaking, and then they’ll need to make a ton more changes (especially expanding content) to really give it a chance to succeed on next-gen.

They’re competing against quite a few big players on console now, and especially with Destiny 2 giving every indication that it’s going to continue to be a powerhouse and other big players like Anthem coming into the game next year, it’s going to be facing even stiffer competition. And Defiance brings tons of baggage with it, unfortunately.

That being said, a more class-based system sounds a lot better than the ego-grid. Ego-grid was kinda alright, but it always felt a bit aimless. Dunno if it will be enough to get me to reinstall and give it another go (I used to log in once a month just to remind myself that I enjoyed the core gunplay, but those sessions rarely lasted more than an hour), but it’s nice to see that it’s getting some development love one way or another.

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squidgod2000

I honestly didn’t remember the game handling this well

Because it only renders a few characters on your screen as they’re meant to appear. Others are rendered as a default model and still others are culled and never rendered at all. Put another way, it only runs well because it doesn’t even render most of what’s happening.

They never fixed chat. They never added the social features they said were “on the way.” They added and then quickly removed an auction house. They never added motorcycles, despite them being “in development” for years.

Defiance would have been a good game if it was built right (structurally) from the start. Instead, the PC version (which this article indicates is what their pinning the future of the game on) is still just a shit console port of a kinda-shit console game. They roll out new synergies (and accompanying lockboxes, of course) every couple months and call it content. The PvP side of the game (which was always more compelling than the non-storyline PvE side, which was pure RNG grind) is nonexistant due to a lack of players and wildly unbalanced thanks to the use of PvE/RNG/lockbox weapons.

I’d be all over a Defiance 2—I think there’s room for another good TPS MMO—but the original is beyond saving.

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Greaterdivinity

Man, if they made a proper sequel with current-gen visuals and a gameworld that actually supported a proper MMO’s scale, or at the very least had a whole lot more instanced group content to do with other players, I’d be all over that as well. The first needs so much work to really make it a contender in the current market that they may as well rebuild from scratch, and if they can carry over the core gameplay (movement is pretty good, gunplay is great, loadouts are awesome, weapon variety is solid, driving around is good etc.) that’s already one of the biggest hurdles.

Still remember the nightmare that was the initial PC UI/menu that required you to go through multiple sub-menu’s just to exit the game. What a nightmare that was : (

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Arktouros

I wouldn’t be opposed to a Defiance 2 set in a different location or something. However the two big deal breakers for Defiance 1 for me were:

1. The game was such an obvious console port it was painful. The lack of a good chat system, the voice comms, etc were all just a huge nightmare headache. If they want me as a PC gamer then they gotta put in a modicum of effort to making the PC version work well for a PC.

2. The game was horrendously designed for loot. The whole game is basically one giant Borderlands style loot grinder and they removed all the loot sources in the first 24 hours to try to push their cash shop crates. You can’t have that in a game where the only purpose is running around getting loot. This made the game devolve into me spending 100 minutes every 120 minutes riding in between shops to see what new random loot they had and check for upgrades as my best way to get upgrades. RNG loot systems are designed to be notoriously grindy because the chances of finding the exact item you want is in the single digits so removing sources of loot is just dumb.

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Sorenthaz

Could have it set out in the Great Divide or a completely different country. Possibly Antarctica or wherever Nolan was obsessed with going to since it’s supposed to be a tropical paradise? Lol.

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Davide Moriello

The game is on PS3 and xbox360 not ps4

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Darthbawl

<– Still eternally pissed off that they canned the TV show.

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Connor

Three seasons is a good run for a TV show, especially for one operating under Syfy’s usual budget of half a ham sandwich and Trion World’s budget of the mayo on said sandwich.

Nathaniel Downes
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Nathaniel Downes

I spent well over an hour with Pettit as well at the booth. He is a really cool guy, and very encouraging. Trion was very smart in sending him to PAX, as you can really see the passion he has for video games.

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